Your Company’s Social Debut

Planning Your Company’s Debut or Strategy in the Social Media Sphere

Corporations have long been regarded by the law as having “legal personality”-  which means they have rights, privileges, responsibilities, and protections just like humans (with some differences, like marriage).   It should come as no surprise then, that they’re acting like humans more and more – now they’re relaxing with friends, and socializing! As communication gets easier through digital technology, humans are now able to interact with corporate personalities.  And these personalities are just beginning to awaken to the new freedoms they can find in the digital landscape.

If you’re like me, and I bet you are, you are both human, and, also a part of bringing business personalities to the social scene. In this capacity, I recently attended SocialTech2010 in Jan Jose, CA, right from my desk in NYC.

As the Twitter stream flowed by rapidly with commentary and quotes from the speakers, I watched and listened to advice, case studies and stories from the experts on Social Media for Business. I came away with the recognition that Social Media for business is just like a big networking cocktail party!

Companies aren’t accustomed to acting as social creatures and the adjustment will take some time. We all had to learn social skills growing up; companies can do the same. There are a few things that etiquette would require of a cocktail party attendee and that’s the same strategy the speakers at SocialTech2010 are recommending:  Know who you are, be interactive and respectful, don’t gossip, be a good listener, and don’t be afraid to share yourself.

As businesses gain proficiency in this kind of interacting, they follow an arc towards maturity. Kathleen Malone of Intel outlined the following 5 stages of a Social Media Approach:

1)      Listen: In this stage a company finds out: What are people saying about my Brand and/or my field? Where are they having this discussion? Who are the major players and influencers?  Services like Radian6, which Malone says Intel deployed 18 months ago, make this possible.

2)      Analyze: This is the time to read the room/space, figure out what your angle will be when you eventually do pipe up. Which conversation will you enter? What are your expectations? Why are you going to participate?

3)      Create: This is the stage where the business comes up with something appropriate to say. To participate effectively in the conversation, Malone says your content should be: useful, interesting, human, “snackable” (meaning in bite size pieces, easily consumed), inspiring and should cater to egos and build community.  

4)      Engage: In this stage you go public and enter the conversation, getting your content out there in new ways and/or by participating in the conversations that already exist.

5)      Measure: Your social media approach is not complete without an understanding of how you’re doing. The internet is an amazing forum for measuring how people behave with your content, and you should use a variety of tools to understand the response to your forays. Measuring properly will provide insight on how to proceed, both in the ongoing conversation, and with the business itself.

Both Malone and Brian Ellefritz of SAP outlined the natural evolution of Social Media programs at large companies  – first there are what Ellefritz calls “Grass Roots” efforts, where excited individuals branch out in ways that are unpredictable and non-uniform. He says companies should encourage these exploratory missions. Leadership will begin to emerge internally, and informal education will get the ball rolling. Following the “Grass Roots” period, Ellefritz sees “Silos Form.” This may not feel 100% smooth, but is an important step, as “coop-eteition” (a kind of cooperating/kind of competing relationship, sort of like sibling rivalry that spurs each one on) sees different silos jockeying for position. During this step, Ellefritz encourages companies to “invest in leaders, not laggards”, and to get the players from various silos together to learn from each other.  Also, he says, “don’t wait too long for governance.”

The next evolutionary phase in a corporate Social Media Program is “Operationalizing” – where leadership becomes clear, channels become well formed and in alignment with the divisions in your business.  Tools begin to consolidate and more emphasis on measurement and results appears. By this point your business may have headcount devoted to social media, and content should become less problematic, less of a focus, because it’s running more smoothly.  During this stage it’s important to align and integrate silos, and focus on strategy, ownership, metrics and priorities.

After this shift, the next phase is what Ellefriz calls “Lifestyle.” This is when the Social Media program has engaged and competent employees and success is understood and positive outcomes are frequent. This is a level of Social Media implementation that is fairly rare in today’s scene, though Ellefritz points towards Zappos as an example of a company that may be at this level.

.. .. ..

The wonderful thing about participating in social media is that it lets your personality out! For a business that hasn’t previously seen itself as the kind of entity that has a social life, this might seem daunting at first.  That’s why Ellefriz’s evolutionary arc makes so much sense to me. The way I see it, people and businesses want more than ever to get clear on who they are, and who they want to be, in order to present themselves well, and to participate in Social Media conversations. The best advice is to be authentic. Just like at cocktail parties, the people you’re conversing with generally know if you’re “full of it”, or if you’re being sincere.  Your conversational counterparts like to be complemented, offered nuggets of useful information, and generally considered and included.

For businesses, (and the teams of people that perpetuate them) this will mean really focusing on what the goals are, what opportunities exist to communicate clearly and uniformly around these interests, finding “friends” out there to talk with, and owning up to the inevitable minor mistakes that are so easy to make along the way. Since SM is such a public sphere, the resulting increased level of transparency is going to make businesses change and open up in new ways.

Coachdeb:”RT @MarketingProfs: “When someone says they need a Facebook strategy, a Twitter strategy, I say… Wait! Take it back… What’s your story?” @scobleizer #mptech”

So, armed with the Social Media/networking party analogy and with the stages of approach and evolution path laid out before you – what are you waiting for?  Participate!

Here are 10 tips to consider as you get started:

1)      Go where the fish are – target engagement carefully where the conversation already is.

2)      Social Media is Local. The goal is to be uniform while being decentralized – Intel communicates internally with their 1000 “Registered Social Media Practitioners” with guidelines and trainings (some mandatory). Intel also has their own internal newsletter that aggregates Social Media content – Malone says this makes management comfortable as well as keeps everyone updated.

3)      Have a Content Calendar for the year to coordinate Social Media messaging across channels and people, and to keep it focused on your message. Kathy Malone said at Intel, 2/3 of the content that gets put out falls under the guidelines of their content strategy calendar.

4)      Consider in advance how to manage Social Media Risk. One of the most interesting things Jaime Grenny of SalesForce said at SocialTech2010 is that all their employee training videos on Social Media strategy (and how to use online video for B2B marketing) are up for the public to see on YouTube (here).  This level of transparency lets everyone know what to expect upfront.  Malone outlined a “prevention/detection/response” approach in which 3 teams worked from different angles to mitigate risk on the social media front. And experience teaches: “if you screwed up, fess up”, and be transparent.

5)      If your company is doing moderation of dialogue, consider having a light hand to keep the conversation honest – as Intel puts it, they let the good and the bad in, but moderate the ugly – mostly meaning profanity and non-constructive comments, and they’ve found their audience appreciates it.

6)      Build a business case for your business so you know why you’re entering into Social Media – not only will it legitimize your efforts internally, but it’ll provide clarity for your message. Will it extend customer service? Will it increase SEO? Can you use it to create brand advocates and champions? Can you collect ideas on where to take your product?

7)      To measure, use Context. As with all web metrics, in order to understand what’s happening you need to understand the context of your data, and compare it to a baseline to view trends. Knowing your goals will assist you in setting up context.

8)      People are the PlatformLaura Ramos of Xerox encourages us to get our people out there and seen. Show video of your thought leadership. Get your salespeople to share their stories and knowledge with the rest of your company and make them heroes. Build relationships, and let your existing customers create new business for you. Social Media Marketing is not about reaching many to influence a few but engaging a few to influence many!

9)      Social is relevant. Here are some StatsRené Bonvani of Palo Alto Networks says that FaceBook has a 96% penetration in enterprise, meaning that only 4/100 people aren’t using it at work! He also said that only 1% is posting on Facebook but that people are 69 times more likely to use FaceBook chat than to post.  Another impressive Bonvani stat: 69% of business buyers use social media to make purchasing decisions.  No matter the numbers, it’s clear that with the cost of communication dropping close to $0, as social beings, we’re using the web to communicate more often with more people, and in smaller chunks regularly.

10)   Social media has to be part of WHAT you do, not something else you do. Jeremiah Owyang in his keynote said that the only difference between the Social Site and your business is the URL. He says that in the radical future, websites will be dynamically assembled on the fly based on social profiles. URLs and domains won’t matter – the web will be sorted around people and contextual situations.  Because of this, ads will become useful content.  This is already evident.

So – Get out there and participate!

Edgewater Technology provides strategy, consulting, web metrics, and implementation expertise to help you focus on the best ways your company can engage in these dynamic communities and track your success!

10 Actionable Web Metrics You Can Use – Part 2

Show your analytics results with gauges

In Part 1 of this post, I discussed 5 percentage-based metrics that can provide actionable insight. In Part 2, I will go over 5 index-based metrics that can also provide insight to problems that may need to be addressed in order to maximize the value of your website.

1. Campaign Quality Index (CQI)

This index measures how well targeted your campaigns are at driving qualified traffic to your site. Suppose 40% of your traffic comes from a particular campaign, but the traffic only provides 20% of your overall conversions. The CQI for this campaign would be the percent of conversions from the campaign (20%), divided by the percent of visits from the campaign (40%). A value of one means that a visitor from this campaign is as likely to convert (purchase, sign up, request information, etc…) as from any other campaign. A value less than 1.0 means they are less likely to convert, while a value greater than one means they are more likely to convert. If the value is less than 1.0, then you need look at the reasons. You can break this down to individual search engines, or even keyword groups for each search engine, and for each individual banner campaign or other paid campaign you use, including referral partners. Perhaps the targeting is not sufficiently narrow, or the message is not being carried through the site (high bounce rate). You will want to work with your SEM team and landing page design team to make the needed changes. When you make improvements, you can track their effectiveness by watching the index change. Ideally, your analytics dashboard should be created so that you can see the changes over periods of time.

2. New Customer Index (NCI)

This index is focused on transactions (not revenue) from new customers. It is defined as the percent of transactions from new visitors divided by the site percentage of new visitors. For example, if 40% of your transactions are from new visitors, and 60% of your traffic is from new visitors, your New Customer Index is 0.67. A value of 1.0 means that a purchase is equally likely to come from a new or returning customer. A value less than one (as in this example), means that a new visitor is less likely to become a customer. A value greater than one means that a new visitor is more likely to become a customer than a returning visitor. Your goal is to strive for a value of one or better. If the value is less than one, you will need to look at factors that contribute to a low value. To do this properly, you would want to create a New Customer Index for each type of campaign you run, and compare that to those who come to your site from direct entry. A low performing index for paid search or banner campaigns can mean that you are not targeting the correct market, or that your search terms are not correlated to those looking to purchase your product or service. If the campaign is a banner campaign, either the message is not on target, or the media partner you are using is not attracting the correct demographic.

3. Return Visitor Index (RVI)

This index is simply defined as the percent of return visitors divided by the percent of new visitors. A value of 1.0 means that your site has an equal distribution of new vs. return visitors. A value greater than 1.0 means that your site is more likely to attract return visitors, while a value less than 1.0 means your site is more likely to attract new visitors. Depending on your type of site and your effort on attracting new visitors or keeping existing visitors, you can see how effective your efforts are and can then focus on how to improve this index. If your goal is to encourage repeat visits, then you need to be concerned with how fresh or relevant your content is, or how effective any email campaigns are in getting registered visitors to come back to your site. Any anomalies need to be investigated. As an example, I once saw a huge jump in new traffic in a client’s site that was the result of an email campaign, according to the analytics report. However, the email campaigns were only to registered visitors, so in order to have received the email, you would have first had to have visited the site. Thus, the email campaign visits should show up as return visitors. What happened is that the email contained an offer for a free exercise DVD, and the link URL was hijacked and placed on a few deal sites. When visitors clicked on the link, they were attributed to the email campaign, as the link contained the email campaign code! By looking at the RVI, I was able to see that there was an issue that needed to be addressed.

4. Branded Search Index (BSI)

Organic search can consist of generic terms that relate to content on your site plus searches that include your company name or your brand name.  Each can be of interest to your search manager. If more visitors come to your site from generic keywords or terms, it means that your site is well optimized for content. If more of your search visits come from branded terms, it means that more people are finding your site by your brand name instead of from non-branded terms.  You can track this by creating a BSI metric. This is defined as the percent of visits to your site from branded terms divided by visits from non-branded terms. Values greater than 1.0 mean that you are getting more of your traffic from branded terms, while a value less than 1.0 indicate that generic terms are winning the organic search battle. Depending on your search strategy and goals, you can use this information to help adjust your optimization or brand promotional efforts.

5. Site Search Impact (SSI)

Site search is very important for many types of sites. Visitors who come to your site may use site search to help them quickly find what they are looking for. If they find what they want, they may be more likely to continue to reach a goal, such as a purchase or lead submission. If they don’t find what they are looking for, they may just leave the site. The SSI index can tell you the impact your site search has on your revenue. To calculate it, take the per visit revenue from those who use site search, and divide it by the per visit revenue of those who do not use site search. “Per visit” revenue is defined as the total revenue or lead value for the month, divided by the number of visits. If your SSI index is greater than 1.0, this means that your site search is making you money, compared to those who do not use search. If the index is less than 1.0, it means that your site search is costing you money, meaning those who use site search are less likely to either make a purchase or become a lead. This can be the result of not getting desired results from the search, or result pages that don’t satisfy your visitors’ needs. To solve this problem, you would then need to dive deeper into your site search report to identify and correct the issues.

Summary

Hopefully this two-part post on 10 actionable web metrics you can use has given you some insight into how to make your web analytics program more actionable. While some of these metrics are fairly easy to construct, others may require filtering, segmentation, calculated metrics and integration with offline data. Depending on your analytics tool, you may want to use a presentation package like Xcelcius to create and display your gauges and create a dashboard that can be shared with your site’s key stakeholders.

10 Actionable Web Metrics You Can Use – Part 1

Make your web analytics actionable

The end goal of a web analytics report should be to provide some guidance on how to take an action to improve how your website is meeting its goals. However, many analysts simply generate canned reports using their analytics tool and send it to their management for review. In this two-part post, I will share with you 10 different web metrics that can “at a glance” tell your management how well a particular campaign or goal is performing, plus provide some relevant actions that can be taken to improve the underlying performance of the metric.

In Part 1, I will look at five metrics that are expressed in percentages. In Part 2, I will look at five metrics that are expressed as an index. Ideally, these metrics would be designed to be seen as gauges on a dashboard, and some can have the ranges color-coded (green/yellow/red) to quickly show the impact of that metric. Here are the first five actionable metrics.

1. Campaign Margin.

If you are running any paid campaigns for an ecommerce site or lead generating site, you need to know your margin. In simple terms, your campaign margin is defined as your revenue from a campaign less its cost, divided by the revenue. Your goal is to stay as close to 100% as possible. You can create a report that shows the campaign margin for any campaign that involves external spend (banners, paid search, sponsorships, etc…), or an internal spend on employees’ time (social media marketing, forum and article posts, etc…). The smaller your margin, the less money you are making. With this metric, “0%” is breakeven. If you have a negative margin, you are losing money on that campaign. If you have a positive margin, you are making money. This type of margin can be shown as a gauge and placed on your analytics dashboard. If your margin is negative or near zero, you need to take action to look at why the campaign is costing so much or how you can increase the campaign’s effectiveness.

2. Percent Revenue from New Visitors.

This metric tells you how likely visitors are to order from you on their first visit, compared to ordering on successive visits.  In order to create this metric, you need to be able to segment your traffic by new vs. repeat visitors. To calculate the metric, take the revenue generated from new visitors and divide it by the total revenue.  If the percentage is more than 50%, you get more of your sales from first time visitors, If it is less than 50%, you get more orders from repeat visitors. If you see this percentage is low and you have limited repeat buyers, then perhaps you would want to do a better job to get a visitor to purchase on their initial visit. If you have a low percentage of revenue from new visitors, and you have a more expansive product line, then this metric is telling you that you get more of your sales from repeat visitors or customers, and you may want to focus on keeping your content fresh and maintaining campaigns such as email or social networking to keep your visitors coming back.

3. Engaged Visitor Percentage (EVP)

This metric is defined as the number of visits that contain an action or event that indicates engagement divided by the total number of visits. To use this metric, you must first determine what defines an engagement. This can be any of the following – visit a specific number of pages, visit particular pages of interest, subscribe or register to something on your site, post a comment, rate something, click on an ad, use a tool, navigate a map, download something, play a video, forward to a friend, or do anything else you wish to show engagement. By monitoring this metric over time, you can determine if your site is doing a better or worse job of engaging your visitors, if this is one of the goals of your site.

4. Utilization Factor (UF)

Some types of organizations have developed their website to encourage its users to conduct business through it instead of calling or submitting paperwork. For example, an insurance company may want claims to be processed via the web. A financial agency may want its brokers to process transactions via the web instead of sending in forms. If one of your goals is to encourage the use of your site to accomplish tasks, one way to measure this is to track the percentage of activities that are conducted on the web divided by the total number of activities conducted online and offline. This metric is a bit more complicated, as to do it entirely online you need to import the offline data into your web analytic program. You can also export the online data and create an Excel-based report that combines the online and offline data. Your UF can also be used to measure the percent of registered users who use the site to transact business. By monitoring the Utilization Factor over time, you can determine how well your efforts are to shift your transactions to the web. Specific actions can include training of your users on how to use your site to process transactions, or ongoing communications that remind your users to use the site.

5. Self Service Factor (SSF)

If your site is to be used to provide customer service, one of your goals could be to reduce the percent of customer service issues that are handled through the phone. Thus, the SSF would be calculated as the number of service issues that were resolved on the web divided by the total number of service issues (web + phone + chat + email). In order to do this, you would either need to import your offline data into your web analytics program, or export your online data into a spreadsheet to combine it with your offline data. If your company has a target goal for resolving service issues via the site, you can create a gauge that shows how well the actual percentage is compared to the goal, or color-code the result as red or green to show if the SSF is above or below the target. Part of your site’s optimization efforts would include analyzing the issues that are most often called in and updating the content on the website, or making the top 10 most frequent issues a sidebar on the customer service site.

In Part 2 of this article, I will show you how to use these five additional actionable metrics:

  • New Customer Index
  • Campaign Quality Index
  • Return Visitor Index
  • Branded Search Index
  • Site Search Impact

The Promise of the Real Time Web for the Enterprise


Real Time Web is the latest trend to capture the media’s attention over the past few months, and indeed seems to encapsulate well the effect that Twitter and the social networks are having on the flow of information. The ability to get up-to-the-second information about people, news and activities around the world is a foundation for a new wave of startups and services and is being integrated into search and other services.

As many users of the real time web will attest, its constant stream of information can be overwhelming and disjointed but at its best, it allows awareness and insight to emerge as the confluence of information takes a clearer shape.

Can this be useful in the enterprise? (I’ll be careful about using the term “The Real-Time Enterprise” that Gartner coined a few years ago; it means something else).

Companies generate huge amounts of data that rarely sees the light of day. Let’s consider the following scenario – you are an account manager for several key accounts in a particular vertical. What information are you getting? Most likely direct and indirect emails consist of 90% of the information while the rest is verbal, non-documented conversations. But what if you could get real-time updates on the following:

  • Client specific news
  • Client brand related blog posts, discussions, videos and tweets in real time
  • Vertical news
  • Client services updates about milestones reached
  • Customer support alerts about open service tickets and their resolution status
  • Internal discussions and email regarding the client
  • External email communications with the client by different team members
  • Etc..

Not all of these would constitute information that someone will send a specific email on. Being aware of the stream of news, discussions and information can be invaluable for an agile and responsive approach.

Our current document and email centric information systems are not built to provide this level of constant details. Using the new generation of web mashups and aggregation tools are beginning to offer reasonable solutions.

As Jennifer Martinez had recently observed in GigaOm, there is a huge potential for tools that will help sift and provide context for all of these huge streams of data.

What surprises me is that most of the discussion looks at this as a new phenomenon while there is an industry that has been using this method very successfully for a long time. The Bloomberg (and other) terminals provide bite size financial information in a continual stream that can be filtered, sorted and analyzed. It combines company news, industry news, transactions, price changes, etc., in a way that for a novice seems indecipherable but for the experienced broker is a goldmine.

Providing the right tools are put in place, the potential business value seem significant:

  • Accelerating cycles of decision making
  • Pushing all relevant information to you rather than pulling from multiple sources is a great time saver
  • Decreasing the unbearable email load
  • Increasing and broadening awareness to domain knowledge

For more information on the real time web and the type of tools that exist around it, ReadWriteWeb has compiled a great list of top 50 real time web companies and services.

Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2009 – What’s New?

It was interesting to visit the Web 2.0 conference last week and see the progress and trends compared to my last year impressions.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • SharePoint is the de-facto standard for Enterprise 2.0 While other vendors have compelling products and features, a CIO that is looking for an internal, comprehensive, secure and maintainable solution has almost only one choice (unless you are on an IBM stack..). Other tools focus on providing point solutions, hosted environments, plugging current SharePoint holes and extending functionality. Microsoft had the biggest and most impressive presence and were heavily promoting the next version SharePoint 2010 that will be launched in the SharePoint conference in October. (Some preliminary details here).
  • The field has definitely matured over the last year. There are more case studies and research about usage, benefits and trends although most companies are not sharing explicit ROI numbers. Some vendors have disappeared while others are growing and establishing themselves at a level where they may be considered long term players and safe for the enterprise.
  • The experts are still frustrated with the slow rate of adoption and the seeming growing gap between the prevalence of social tools and technologies used by marketing and sales to communicate externally Vs. they almost complete absence internally. The rapid adoption of tools like Facebook and Twitter for customer communication not just in retail but in Healthcare and other industries creates glaring discrepancies where the same companies have no tools internally and sometimes even block their own marketing teams from external use of these tools under some outdated IT policy.
  • IT is still not part of the discussion. That is unfortunate because as Steve Wylie, the conference director expressed in a guest post at ZDNET last week, large scale adoptions will not happen without IT.

    “While we could argue that this is a very new market and that businesses take time to change, I also believe that Enterprise 2.0 will be challenged by large-scale adoption until corporate IT is fully on board.  Early adoption has been largely driven by business users and department-level managers.  They had a problem to solve and were fed up waiting for IT to provide the solutions they needed.  They took matters into their own hands by finding workable, web-based solutions and even celebrated this new found freedom from IT.  With a few exceptions, IT took a reactive posture to Enterprise 2.0 and viewed it as a threat to be managed, secured and even blocked in some cases.”

  • Tactical view. One of the most frequently asked questions was “what is the best way to get started?”. The pretty universal answer for vendors and corporate users was to approach it in a tactical manner and find a specific business problem you can solve using collaboration tools. Be it an HR portal to boost morale, tools to help virtual project teams work more efficiently, sales best practices portal or any of many other ideas. Define a narrow business case and implement. So far, trying to approach this in a strategic manner makes finding ROI a herculean task and as noted above, puts IT on the defensive. I hope that this trend will start to change as these tactical solutions rarely provide long term sustainable benefits.
  • Rise of the Community Manager. The most active forum was the one where the newly created function – community managers shared their challenges and tricks for getting people to take part in the social activity. First, It is great to see that many leading organizations have realized the importance of such a task although many had it as a secondary responsibility they volunteered to do rather than a full time position. Creating and maintaining a vibrant and active internal community requires skill, passion and process and the focus should rightfully be as much on that as on the tools that enable the community.

Additional impressions:

Enterprise 2.0 2009 Conference: Aggregate and Organize

Enterprise e-Commerce on a Shoe String Budget?

e-commerce on a shoe string

Image courtesy of Flickr

While inexpensively built and operated mom and pop e-commerce websites are as common as snow in New England in January, is it possible to build and operate an enterprise grade e-commerce site on a shoe string budget? E-commerce at an enterprise level is not simply slapping a shopping cart to your website and calling it e-commerce enabled. The demands of an enterprise solution may require:

  • Integration with legacy systems
  • Integration with supply-chain systems
  • Support for multiple currencies and tax codes
  • Multiple store-fronts
  • Profile and history driven offer management
  • Integration with a content management system
  • Business user control over promotions and pricing
  • …and more

Challenges of integration with existing systems alone are daunting enough never mind the fancy e-commerce functionality that is often considered vital for competitive differentiation. No wonder why starting an e-commerce venture or an upgrade is considered a seven figure expense. The cost of an enterprise grade e-commerce product alone can easily account for twenty to forty percent of the budget. The other option is to go with a hosted or SaaS based approach and avoid capital expense for software and infrastructure – not a bad approach for testing the waters but in the long run, charges and fees can really add up.

A well executed e-commerce site can provide great returns on the investment by generating new revenue streams, enhancing existing ones, or reducing operational expenses – and that can’t be too bad for the budget or your career. However, in tough economic times the challenge becomes harder as getting approval for large complex projects becomes difficult and even the approved budgets can get slashed. If your budget gets cut, is there a way to still implement enterprise grade e-commerce? Can an open source e-commerce solution be the answer to the “do more with less” mantra? Is open source e-commerce ready to play with the big boys in the enterprise domain? Let’s explore these questions and the capabilities of the open source e-commerce solutions.

Let’s start with a common misconception that an open source e-commerce product requires significant customizations and the cost of customizations more than offsets any savings from not having to pay license fees. Implicit in this assumption is the notion that a commercial product requires little or no customizations. However, the real-world experience shows us that this is not the case. Even the best commercial products cannot be used out-of-the-box unless you decide to adopt their look and feel and their model of e-commerce. The cost of customizations can add up just as rapidly in a commercial product as they can in an open source one. Therefore a prudent approach would be to adhere to the industry standards and best practices and use out-of-the-box functionality in areas which are not competitive differentiators. Heavy customizations should be limited to the aspects of the website that are true differentiators and result in a unique user experience. This guiding principle applies regardless of the decision to use an open source or a commercial product.

There are a lot of inexpensive and open source e-commerce products out there; however, most of them are nothing more than a simple shopping cart. They are only suitable for the most basic needs of a simple web site. However, Apache OFBiz and Magento are two promising contenders that break from the pack and compete in the enterprise space. In this article we will primarily focus on OFBiz.

Apache OFBiz is actually an integrated suite of products that does not only include e-commerce capabilities but also provides support for accounting, order management, warehouse management, content management and more. An enterprise e-commerce implementation cannot exist as a point solution. It has to integrate and work well with other back office processes and applications. OFBiz’s integrated suite can be used to automate and integrate most back office functions. Even if you decide not to use the built-in functionality it can still be integrated with other existing systems albeit with more effort and cost. It provides enough e-commerce functionality out of the box to match most enterprise needs and the rest can be customized if needed. Here is a summary of our assessment of OFBiz:

Technical Capabilities

# Criteria Rating Comments
1. E-commerce capabilities B+ Provides Robust e-commerce capabilities OFBiz e-commerce capabilities include: catalog management, promotion & pricing management, order management, customer management, warehouse management, fulfillment, accounting, content management, and more.
2. Sign-on and Security B Granular and robust security framework The OFBiz security framework provides fine grain control of the security including multiple security roles and privileges. Roles can be used to control access to screens, business methods, web requests (URLs), and/or entire applications.
3. Technical flexibility & ease of use B Very flexible but complex  OFBiz is an application development platform that can be used to build applications and as such provides a tremendous amount of flexibility.  The use of the entire framework (which includes the database, an Object Relational Mapping (ORM) layer, business object layer, scripting support, and UI tools) is optional.
4. Integration with other apps and locations A Multiple integration methods  OFBiz business services can be exposed as services and accessed by multiple methods including Remote Method Invocation (RMI) and XML Web Services.  Integration directly with the OFBiz Relational Database is also possible.
5. Scalability A Highly Scalable  Java systems are highly scalable provided a production architecture that is designed to support heavy load.  A load balancing device and redundancy at the web, application and database servers can redundancy and scalability.
6. Relational database integration A Support for all major database platforms  The most popular OFBiz database platforms are PostgreSQL and MySQL (both of which are open source).  OFBiz has also been tested with Oracle, DB2, Sybase, and MS SQL Server.  The default installation uses an Apache Derby database which is not recommended for production use. Our research indicates some problems with MS SQL Server database – this should be investigated further prior to selecting that database platform.
7. Skill Set to support NA OFBiz framework and application are based in the following technology components:

  • XML
  • Web Development: HTML, CSS, AJAX/JavaScript, Apache
  • Java Development: Java, JSP, Freemarker, BeanShell, Tomcat application server (possibly)
  • Database Development and Administration: MS SQL Server (possibly), SQL, JDBC

Long term support of the application would require knowledge and familiarity in each of these technology sets.  While these technologies are mainstream and skills should be readily available in the future, skills and experience with the OFBiz framework that is built upon these technologies may not be.

Business Position

# Criteria Rating Comments
1. Financial stability B OFBiz is a “top level” project in the Apache Software Foundation.  The Apache Software Foundation provides support for the Apache community of open-source software projects. The Apache projects are characterized by a collaborative, consensus based development process, an open and pragmatic software license, and a desire to create high quality software that leads the way in its field.
2. Maturity of product suite B Open For Business (OFBiz) was initially launched in 2001.  In early 2006, the project went through the Apache Foundation’s “Incubation” process to review projects for quality and open source commitment.  OFBiz was promoted to a top level Apache project in December 2006.The community for OFBiz is very active.  The major web posting board receives between 20-40 postings per day relating to OFBiz.  The original contributors are very active in monitoring these sites and sharing knowledge.
3. Reference Accounts B- Total number of installations is unknown due to the nature of open source software. The OFBiz websites lists more than 70 companies that use their software. However, there are very few marquee names.

Implementing an enterprise e-commerce solution can be expensive and complex process that requires analysis and investment in people, processes, and technology. While it would be insincere to say that an enterprise e-commerce solution can be implemented on a budget in the ballpark of a mom and pop e-commerce store, the budget can be significantly reduced by:

  • Carefully crafting business requirements
  • Adapting the business model to match industry’s best practices
  • Reducing and carefully planning data migration and application integration
  • Keeping the customizations to a minimum
  • And using an open source e-commerce platform

OFBiz provides a viable open source e-commerce stack that can be used to implement enterprise grade e-commerce. When combined with good implementation practices and solid execution the combination can result in slashing costs by twenty to forty percent — which sometimes can make the difference between getting funded or getting shelved.

Building a Collaborative Enterprise: Facebook

Facebook has surpassed the BBC in the UK, and, as of November 2008, is the #13 most visited site in the United States (source: comScore.com). Although it is mostly a consumer-focused site, businesses without a Facebook strategy may be missing a key component of their internet vision.

What is Facebook?

Facebook is a social networking application that lets users keep up with their friends, and exchange photos, location updates, and thousands of other activites due to its rich application development capabilities.

Why Facebook?

Facebook has the unique position to put your company in front of millions of users, both through traditional targeted online advertising as well as grassroots popularity.

Enterprises can take advantage of the broad reach, as well as users’ social graphs, by adapting their business processes to integrate with the metadata available there.

In contrast to MySpace, Facebook is far more structured, with a rigid template and page set up allowing very little design and content freedom. Although some users may find it limiting, it does mean less opportunity for abuse. For example, users can become “fans” of or companies or products, creating fan networks, but they can’t start boycott or other negative campaigns within Facebook’s standard template.

Example: WorkLight WorkBook

WorkLight’s WorkBook, released late last year, is the first of what are likely to be many applications that integrate with users’ existing social graphs in Facebook. These hybrid applications will take advantage of the rich Facebook API, while at the same time provide integration with enterprise systems via single-sign on and a unified data architecture. WorkLight has the benefit of already having an established presence in many large companies, where adoption rate and accessibility will be critical to their widespread success across the enterprise.

Brand Awareness

Enterprises will be significantly cutting back on marketing expenses in calendar year 2009 – making it a perfect time to explore Facebook as a low cost of entry marketing platform. Major consumer brands such as Jeep, Red Bull, and Coca-Cola have already invested heavily over the past 2 years in developing content and building audiences.

Late 2008 and early 2009 will bring business-oriented users to Facebook, looking to network for leads and build brand awareness and loyalty. This may result in fostering communities of “friends”, from smaller corporate divisions like Cisco Corporate Communications on up to General Electric.

I believe that a social media campaign is a lot harder, a lot more resource intensive than many marketers realize. Starting one without the ability to maintain it, is a form of brand suicide. Like blogs whose last entry was a year ago, an abandoned social media campaign shows both a lack of understanding and a lack of real engagement. — Simon Salt, CEO, IncSlingers

“Facebook-Like” Applications

In a future blog post, we plan on exploring what I believe is more likely to occur in 2009, that is the rise of “Facebook-Like” applications inside the corporate firewall. Most major enterprise software vendors are developing or releasing products to provide functionality similar to Facebook, adapting it for use in the enterprise. Product vendors such as Socialtext exemplify the types of products we are likely to see inside the firewall in the near future.

Related Articles

Web 2.0 for Insurance Questions and Answers

web202

I wanted to follow-up the IsoTech08 conference and the talk I delivered there on Web 2.0 and Insurance with answers to a few questions that came from the audience.

The full presentation slides are posted on slideshare:

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: agent_collaboration agent_engagement)

Questions and Answers:

Q: the new trends in the innovative use of the web seem to give direct insurers an advantage over indirect ones, as they focus a much larger portion of their resources in direct to consumer services and marketing. How can traditional agent centric companies compete?

A: Do you remember the end of real estate agents? When Your Home Direct launched with a website and a 2% commission structure everyone mourned agent based companies. It appeared that agents do provide value and the 2% became 3%, then 4% and now chapter 11. Remax is still going strong…

Agents provide a personal relationship and value that is appreciated by many customers. Companies can empower these agents with the latest tools and technologies that will allow them to provide their customers with the best user experience and convenience that will provide the best of both worlds.

The direct providers like Geico, provide tools but no context or tailoring to the client specific needs. Agents should be provided with a white label set of tools (tools that the Insurer provides but can be customized with the branding, contacts and products that a specific agent provides). When providing a quote, it is not a printed document but a link to a personalized client site with all the details of the quote listed and the ability for the client to make changes and see options. Agents can communicate through messages or live chat and provide all the options and discounts.

The Customer gets a completely customized experience guided by a trusted agent.

Insurers that will empower their agents with tools like these will not have a problem to compete successfully.

Q: It was mentioned that one of the largest hurdles in the successful implementation of social and collaboration tools inside the enterprise is lack of critical mass of users. How can we ensure that we reach the critical mass and what will drive adoption?

A: It is true that for any community to be lively and for any communication tool to be effective it needs to reach a sufficient number of people. There are few ways to help that happen:

  • Cultivate the core user group. The ratio is usually 1:9. For every one contributor you have 10 readers and commenters. The contributors form the heart of the community and need to be encouraged and rewarded
  • Put collaboration tasks within the line of business. Collaboration and social tools are often considered “above the line” or things you do above and beyond your regular work. If an organization can find ways to put the use of these tools in the regular course of doing business, their usage will become just part of doing your job. Examples can include posting files and not emailing them, soliciting feedback through a forum, not in an email etc.
  • Make it the social norm. if key activities happen there, and key executive post and conduct business in the internal social network, it will become the place to be. People will start asking each other if they saw a specific thread or comments and will drive up adoption.

Q: Can you provide an example where Mashups provide a solution that can not be addressed using other existing Portal, BI ,EAI and Dashboard tools?

A: As with any new technology, people are justifiably concerned that the hype is exaggerated and that it is just a fancy term for well implemented dashboards. The new class of tools called Mashup engines try to solve some of the fundamental problems of integrating data from multiple sources and providing it in a visual interface without the need to go though the extensive and expensive effort of actually integrating the applications and their data. By leveraging web services standards, each source of data or data driven service can be assembled quickly and provide unique insights and different way to look at data that was very difficult until now. Here are a few scenarios:

  • Dynamic view of the customer. We often talk about a 360 view of the customer with all their claims, policies, history, and in multiple lines of business. A customer mashup can take a customer record as a baseline and pull together a combination of structured and unstructured data with visual rendering. For example, if the client is company X, the company view can include:
    • Company information and price stock
    • Map of company locations
    • List of latest news from news services about the company
    • List of SEC filings
    • Existing policies with their value and renewal dates
    • List of open and recent claims
    • List of recent service calls

    The data comes from multiple sources and can quickly change but the dynamic nature of the mashup, allows sources to be added or removed quickly and for different data to load based on retrieved parameters

Image taken from: http://www.andybudd.com/presentations/dcontruct05/images/zen2.jpg on April 21, 2008.

Web 2.0: Rumors of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

Sometimes it is a good idea to step back and think after reading the breathless reporting on the Great Left Coast Technology Shows, TechCrunch 50 and Demo Fall . What is most interesting is some of the ensuing analysis.  For example, this piece basically says Web 2.0 is dead, because the offered Web 2.0 innovation was yet another photo site, friend network, etc…  Even Web 2.0′s death is old news.  During November 2006, Web 2.0 was considered as much as dead to be superseded by Web 3.0  (ugh!!! I haven’t got Web 2.0 straight yet).

What is going on?  How can I even remotely look intelligent as a technologist going for budget or capital to work with Web 2.0 technology?  Dead, not dead, no wait it is Web 3.0.  This would make anybody think the IT profession as a whole was psychotic for even suggesting a value proposition incorporating Web 2.0 technology within or without the company.

Perhaps a different view would help put all of the noise in perspective.  After recently reading “Engines that Move Markets: Technology Investing from Railroads to the Internet and Beyond” by Alasdair Nairn, one can apply the lessons learned from past cycles of technology adoption to that of Web 2.0.  While technologies such as railroads, electric lighting, and automobiles are dissimilar, they all tend to follow the same cyclic steps.  One of those early steps is the rise of copycats or “me-too-ism”.  Everybody wants to jump on that gravy train with biscuit wheels, and hopes to tap into the investment cash stream moving into the new technology innovation.  By gauging where you stand step-wise in the cycle you will know when and where to invest.  So in this case Web 2.0 is not dead, it is merely signaling a move to the next stage.

The next stage will be corporate and organizational adoption, not necessarily the next great consumer Web site.  The consumer space has been the lead innovation ground for the Internet, with corporate and organizational use trailing.  So the consumer space is moving to the later consolidation phase for Web 2.0, while the corporate and organization space is beginning innovation and adoption.  Just the announcements by IBM for a social collaboration lab and Oracle for their Beehive initiative show the value of using this cyclic model as a lens for evaluation.

Now is really the time for corporations and organizations to begin to consider adoption of Web 2.0 technology with implementation studies and pilot programs.  The potential productivity gains and first mover benefits will be huge for those who can begin the cultural changes necessary.  Because the technology drives more of a cultural and organizational change than a true technological change there is little benefit to waiting for the technology to be “perfected”.  Instead, the organization’s culture needs to adapt to best practice in collaboration and analytics driven evolution, and where people are concerned it takes time to adapt and assimilate.

Image courtesy of gapingvoid.com

McKinsey Enterprise Web 2.0 Research – Adoption Rate Increases

McKinsey and Company released a research report last week titled “Building the web 2.0 enterprises” (free registration required). It is a global survey of about 2000 executives about the use, adoption, priorities and satisfaction with web 2.0 tools and technologies.

The summary in their words:

“Companies are using more Web 2.0 tools and technologies than they were last year, sometimes for more complex business purposes, according to McKinsey’s second annual survey on Web 2.0. Companies that are satisfied with their use of these tools are starting to see changes throughout the enterprise.”

A few thoughts and observations from the findings and from our own experience with implementing Enterprise 2.0 solution internally at Edgewater and for clients:

1. The technologies that are being implemented.

Social networking is now in second place after web services. It is not clear how social networking is defined and if the focus is internal or external. From what we’ve see, there are at least 3 different ways companies use social networking technologies:

  • Internal social networking: the goal of these tools is to help people stay in contact, share activities and be able to find expertise inside the organization. From the much discussed use of Facebook as an internal social network by Serena Software to the creation of SharePoint profiles, the tools that currently exist are very limited in their support and address only what Andy McAfee calls the Strong circle, the group of people you interact with on a regular basis anyway. A true internal social network that will spur interaction and discovery across the enterprise is yet to emerge.
  • Internal Collaboration: it is not on the list but internal forums and collaborative tools for projects are one of the oldest and most used aspects of an active intranet. Many may associate these activities as part of a social network.
  • External social network for customer or partners. In here as well, collaborative environment and Social Network seem to be used interchangeably. There are a lot of forums, discussions and member interaction but due to their limited scope, these communities rarely develop into a full fledged social network.

The second point of interest here is the relatively low rating of some of the emerging trends like Tagging, Prediction markets and Mashups. We see a lot of interest in these upcoming technologies and expect to see them rise in priority in the future.

2. The cultural implications of adopting Web 2.0. It is good to see that in many organizations the change is not just in the tools that are introduced but also in the organizational culture and governance.

The tight correlation between the level of satisfaction with web 2.0 tools and the degree the organization had changed indicates that they are tightly coupled. Introducing new tools to a rigid organization will result in failure. A successful implementation has to consider attitude and cultural changes as much as tools and technologies.

3. Who is leading the change: the role of IT. It is not surprising to see in the survey results that only in 16% of the responders indicated that IT had initiated the introduction of Web 2.0 tools.

and that in the cases it did, they resulted in the lowest level of satisfaction. We’ve seen similar trends with our clients as these tools introduce chaos into the environment corporate IT is trying desperately to control and maintain. IT is responsible for keeping the security levels in place, ensuring availability, backup, searchability and integrating these services into the existing infrastructure. Since many of these tools are from open source or startup organizations, IT is justifiably playing the role of the gate keeper. A successful strategy must marry the business needs and opportunities with the prudence of a supported environment but in keeping with the agile approach that is inherent in web 2.0 – IT must be willing to give up some control otherwise web 2.0 initiatives will take too long to implement and will be too restrictive for an organization to embrace. In many cases, this is our role as strategy and technology consultants, to bridge the gap and set a cohesive strategy everyone can agree upon and execute.

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